Sunday, 19 August 2018

Confession before Holy Communion, 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6:51-58; Prov 9:1-6
Today I want to make an important point about why receiving Holy Communion so often fails to change us, and I want to start by making an analogy:
If you want to be fit, it’s not enough to go to the gym, there are two things you need to do as well:
(1) You need to EXERCISE while you’re at the gym (not just walk through the door!), and,
(2) BEFORE being at the gym, and after leaving, you need to EAT a healthy diet.

In fact, exercise on a full bloated stomach will just make you sick;
And similarly, exercise on a weak unfed body will weaken you further.
The point is this: to benefit from the gym, you need to not merely attend the gym, but prepare yourself with your general lifestyle.
It’s the same with Holy Communion:
it’s not enough to just attend Mass, we need to come properly prepared.
Otherwise, we spiritually damage ourselves. As St Paul warns us in the Bible, when we receive Holy Communion unworthily we eat and drink condemnation upon ourselves, and, he teaches, we damage ourselves.

What is available in Holy Communion? Everything. It is God Himself we are receiving.
We can be utterly transformed. But, it’s not automatic -we need to be prepared.

I want to also note an important point: being prepared isn’t a simple on/off switch. There are DEGREES of being prepared, and thus the more we are prepared the more we are going to benefit.
Most pivotally, we need to be going to regular confession.
Most basically, we need to go to confession before receiving Holy Communion if we have committed any mortal sins.  Pope Francis said recently, “We know that one who has committed a serious sin should not approach Holy Communion without having first obtained absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation.”(14th March 2018). See also, "A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession" (CIC 916).
(See quotations below, taken from our newsletter.)

What are mortal sins? 3 examples.
(a) If we’ve missed Sunday Mass, then we’ve failed in our grave duty to worship the Lord on the Lord’s Day;
(b) If we’ve viewed pornography, and/or, committed related solitary sins;
(c) If our state of life is not in keeping with the Gospel, living with someone we’re not married to, or with someone we’re not free to be married to;
-In any of these or other grave sins, we need to (i) repent, (ii) resolve to change, and (iii) purify our souls by confession.
Then, at the most basic level, we can go to Holy Communion.

But, beyond the bare minimum, if we are to BENEFIT from what is on offer in Holy Communion we need to be regularly purifying ourselves from VENIAL sins, not just mortal ones.
I’ve sometimes been asked, “How often do I HAVE to go to confession?”
But I would reply that a better question is, “How often it is GOOD for you to get to confession?” -and the answer is very often:
The more often, and more deeply, you are purifying your soul, the better able you will be to benefit from Holy Communion.

For 4 weeks now our Scripture readings have been focusing us on Holy Communion.
Those reading have repeatedly challenged us, as we heard in our second reading, to “be very careful about the sort of lives you lead”(Eph 5:15), to “leave your folly”(Prov 9:6) as our first reading put it, because if our lives aren’t suitable for Holy Communion then we won’t be ready for the graces on offer.

To return to my opening analogy:
There is no point going to a gym unless your diet and lifestyle are prepared in the build up to the gym,
and there is no point going to Holy Communion unless we regularly get ourselves to confession.


From this Sunday's newsletter:

Confession before Holy Communion
Pope Francis said recently, 
“We know that one who has committed a serious sin should not approach Holy Communion without having first obtained absolution in the sacrament of Reconciliation.” (14th March 2018).  
"A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession" (CIC 916).
And Scripturally, 
“Whoever eats the Bread or drinks the Cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.  Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the Bread and drink from the Cup.”(1 Cor 11:27-28)

3 Examples of sins preventing Holy Communion
What would be examples of mortal sins referred to in the above paragraph?  In each of the following examples we commit a sin serious enough that we need to repent, resolve not to commit the sin again, and be forgiven in the sacrament of confession -only then have we rendered our soul ready again to receive the Lord in Holy Communion.  Far from being something that would fill us with hesitation or awkwardness, we should rejoice that the Lord has given us such a clear way to come back to Him.

(1) Missing Sunday Mass
"The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice.  For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor (Canon Law 1245).  Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin."(CCC 2181)
"Pastors should remind the faithful that when they are away from home on Sundays they are to take care to attend Mass wherever they may be." (Pope St John Paul II, Dies Domini, 49)

(2) Pornography and Masturbation
“Pornography consists in removing sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense.”(CCC 2354)
“Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography.” (CCC 2396)

(3) Living in a state of life contrary to the Gospel
Sometimes we are living in an on-going situation, what is called a ‘state of life’, that contradicts what Christ asks of us.  
e.g. Living as husband and wife with someone we are not married to, or living with a same-sex partner, or marrying after divorce (Mk 10:11) 
-in each of these and similar cases we need to resolve to amend our state of life and then go to confession.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Leadership Team Reading List

Here's the reading list our new parish leadership team will be working through this autumn.  4 books we hope can inspire us to transform our parish.  You can read about the team here.

Book titles:  
  • ·      The Amazing Parish (website, see here) which describes a leadership team here
    ·      Rebuilt by Michael White and Tom Corcoran, see here
    ·      The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher, see here
    ·      Divine Renovation by James Mallon, see here
    ·      Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell, see here

Reading plan of excerpts:

(1) ‘Warfare in Heaven’: Calling consumers to become disciples 
Rebuilt, by White and Corcoran, pp.1-11, 49-65
Issues:   Are parishioners ‘consumers’ or ‘disciples’?  c.f. Needy/complaint/demanding consumers
Complaints: the reaction to proposed change

(2) The Mission of the Church and the need for Change 
Divine Renovation, by James Mallon, pp. 9-25, 43-45, 52-57; Rebuilt pp.58-64
Questions to consider:
(a) Why does the Church exist?  Why does our local parish exist?
(b) What does Pope Francis mean by a “self-referential Church”?  How does the example of changing Mass times illustrate this?
(c) Bigger question: What cultural changes, both outside and within the Church, mean that a parish can maintain structures that only served a previous era?
(d) How is change likely to be experienced by the parish?

(3) Defining Mission and Strategy 
Rebuilt pp.67-83
Issues to consider: 
The distinction between a mission and a specific set of strategies
The usefulness of old-style ‘mission statements’
What will the consumers say? 

(4) The Sunday Experience
Rebuilt pp.87-114; Divine Renovation pp.95-96 (plus pp.95-117 if time)
Question to consider: How would St Anthony’s “Sunday experience” feel if you approached it as a visiting Catholic?  As a new parishioner?  As a unchurched outsider?
Issues in chapter: music, welcome, cleanliness, scrapping all social events, the environment
Note that Rebuilt pp.96-97 contradicts Divine Renovation p.113

(5) The Benedict Option
pp.1-5; 16-18; 236 as summary of book’s thesis
pp.100-121; 124-129 on how liturgy forms culture
pp.124-129 on putting God first
Key questions: 
(a) How do we form a Christian culture in the midst of our secular society?  How do we do this as a parish?  As individual families?
(b) What choices must we make as individuals and families if we are to put God first?
(c) If liturgy forms culture, does a ‘welcoming’ liturgy subvert it to another agenda?  When does liturgy become about us and not about God?

(6) Community and Small Groups 
Rebuilt pp.151-170; Divine Renovation pp.138-141
Key questions: 
(a) To what extent is, and to what extent is not, our parish a community?
(b) Is Mallon’s analysis of the modern ‘belong-behave-believe’ model accurate? 

(7) Expectations and Tithing
Divine Renovation pp.153-164; Rebuilt pp. 171-188 (or at least p.188 summary)
Key questions:
(a) To what extent does this reverse the ‘consumer’ model of parishioner?
(b) Does this still leave a place for the half-committed in the pew?

(8) Changing expectations in Sacramental Preparation
Divine Renovation pp.197-220, and pp.221-230 if time
Key questions:
(a) How would the parish respond to this?
(b) How could we prepare people for such a change of culture?
(c) Is this workable/desirable?

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Beauty of Our Lady, Assumption

Rev 11:19-12:10
On today’s feast of Our Lady’s Assumption into heaven we think about Our Lady’s being taken up to heaven body and soul. Of course, ALL saints will have bodies in heaven at the resurrection of the dead, but what is different about Our Lady is that HER body was taken up to heaven directly upon her death. And, when her body was assumed it was obviously transfigured and glorified into the state of the glorified bodies that is their heavenly state. I want to say a few words to try to illustrate the glory of Our Lady's heavenly state, and to do so by referring to the BEAUTY of her heavenly body. I want to make that illustration by quoting some words that I heard a few years ago when I went to Lourdes, the words that St Bernadette used when she described how Our Lady looked when she appeared to her in her visions: St Bernadette referred to the BEAUTY of Our Lady:
She was “gracious and smiling”[1], she said
Years later she would recall: “her eyes were blue”[2],
“So beautiful that when you’ve seen her once, you can’t wait to die and see her again”[3]
“When you’ve seen her, you can’t love this world any more”[4]
Speaking of her beauty: “Ah! If men only knew! Ah! If sinners only knew!”[5]
After that, all her life, St Bernadette never found statue that looked beautify enough to be Our Lady.

I want to comment on this at both a simple and at a technical level.
At a simple level, this beauty of Our Lady’s heavenly body is exactly what we should expect:
The Lourdes vision identified Our Lady as “the Immaculate Conception”;
We should expect the form of her heavenly appearance to match this Immaculate-ness. Her soul was sinless; Her soul was beautiful; How could her body be otherwise? When her body was assumed into heaven it was glorified and beautified even more.

To think of this more techincally:
Theology tells us that the soul is the form of the body;
Philosophy tells us that matter is always proportioned to form.
For example, if you want a chair, the form of a chair cannot work in the matter of jelly
-the form of a chair needs matter like wood or metal

To consider a more human application, in the Resurrection of the Body:
The Resurrected Body will not be like our present body
–it will be glorified, transfigured, free of suffering etc.
But just as we will each have faces that are different and distinct,
So will our bodies be different,
And our bodies will each be appropriate to our souls.
In heaven, our degree of glory will depend on the degree of merit we gained on earth,
and that degree of merit is measured very simply, says St Thomas Aquinas,
is measured by the degree of love, of divine charity, within us.
Our beauty of our bodies will be proportioned to the love in our souls.

And Our Lady, she who was conceived “full of grace”,
She who cooperated with that grace all through her life such that she GREW in grace,
She who cooperated with grace and the plan of God such that,
as the prayers of the Church express it:
“the birth of Christ your Son DEEPENED the virgin mother’s love for you,
and INCREASED her holiness” (Common of the BVM n.1, prayer over gifts)
How beautiful must she be?
She was born beautiful as “full of grace” and her body was planned to be appropriate to that fullness of grace,
by God’s foreknowledge and predestined plan.
Then she was transfigured in Heaven at her assumption to be EVEN MORE beautiful still,
to correspond to the even greater grace that had grown in her.

If WE would be beautiful in heaven, we need to strive to reject sin, strive have grace fill our weakness.
Even in this world, we see how a beautiful soul carries it body with a type of gracefulness & charm;
in heaven, this will be even more so,
and this is what we see in the Lourdes apparition of Our Lady and in so many other apparitions of Our Lady, in the portrayal of her Assumed glory: “Her eyes were blue”, she was “so beautiful”, because she was and is “the Immaculate Conception” and is thus now in glory in heaven.

[1]Rene Laurentin, Bernadette Speaks (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2000), p.572.
[2] P.448.
[3] P.557
[4] P.567, also on p.437: “I made the sacrifice of not seeing Lourdes again... In heaven it will be more beautiful”.
[5] P.321

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Food and Sacrifice, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6:41-51; 1 Kgs 19:4-8
It’d like you to consider a question that I read in a book on the Eucharist (Abbot Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, Chapters 4 and 7):
If the priest at the altar was to call down Jesus Christ from heaven, Jesus in His natural bodily state as a full-grown man, and He was to appear, would this be something more or something less that what actually happens in the sacrament of the Eucharist?

It’s a bold image, but Abbot Vonier points out that this would actually be something LESS that the reality we have in the sacrament. Yes, it would be more visually DRAMATIC, but it would lack something that a sacrament has, namely, it would lack the value of SIGN and symbol.
At the level of reality, both would be the same, since the Eucharist is truly Christ:
His Body, His Blood, His Soul and His Divinity (Catechism n.1374), as the true Faith professes.
At the level of PRESENCE both would be the same.
But at the level of sign and symbol the sacrament has something that His body in its natural state does not.

Abbot Vonier notes that every sacrament uses signs in such a way that it connects the past, present, and future.
The past, meaning the events of salvation history, as recorded in the Bible, principally the death of Christ on the Cross.
The present, that we live in, being whatever particular thing that the sign and symbol of the sacrament signifies.
And the future eternal life, that is opened up to us by our connection with those saving events of past.
So, for example, the saving of the Israelites in the parting of the Red Sea is brought into the present by the water of the sacrament of Baptism, opening the door to heaven.

Let me point to just two of the signs that are made present in the Eucharist.

First, there is the sign of food, of nourishment.
If the Lord came down in His body in its natural state then He would be visible as Himself, but He would NOT be visible as food for our souls.
Yet, being our spiritual food is a vital part of what He is to us: Our souls need feeding, and He provides the food in the Eucharist.
Our first reading, with Elijah being fed with miraculous food that kept him going for his 40 day journey is a foretaste of this Eucharistic feeding. The Eucharist feeds us not for a 40 day journey but for the journey towards our eternal home in heaven.

Second, there is the sign of sacrifice.
Christ instituted the Eucharist under the two appearances of bread and wine, and the Catholic Faith articulates that each is fully Him. It is not that a bit of Him is over here and another bit of Him is over there, rather, He is fully present under each form (Catechism n.1377) -what is called the doctrine of concomitance.
But the form of the two different species is a sign of something else, namely, of death and sacrifice.
In a living person body and blood are together.
When they are separated death occurs.
The sign value of separate bread and wine is thus that of the sacrifice of Calvary. And what the Eucharist makes present is the one eternal sacrifice of Calvary, of the Cross, made present and re-presented, offered on our altar.
Again, if He appeared in just His natural bodily state this sign and symbol would not be present.

To sum that up, a sacrament is the Lord being present, but more than just this: it is sign also.
The Eucharist is His Presence par excellence. But it is also a sign, and among those signs are those of (1) His feeding us and of (2) His being the sacrifice that takes our sins away.
And when we meet Him this way in the sacrament His saving events of the past are brought into the present to carry us on to heaven.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

Adapted for every need, 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Jn 6: 24-35; Ex 16:2-4.12-15
We’re gathered here at Mass now, as we come every Sunday, to the same Mass, the same thing. I want, however, to say a word about how the Eucharist is also DIFFERENT every time we receive Holy Communion, different every week, different every day, different according to our different needs.
If you recall, we’re now in our 2nd Sunday of 5 Sundays with Scripture readings on the Eucharist, all focussed on John chapter 6, and my focus this Sunday is on this aspect of being fed, fed according to our needs, the Eucharist being adapted to YOUR particular needs this very day.

The Lord, we know, feeds us in Holy Communion. And Holy Communion, which is Jesus Himself “the Bread of Life” (Jn 6:35) –as we just heard in that Gospel text, Holy Communion is often compared to the miraculous manna that the Jews were given to eat when they were wandering in the desert, as we heard in our first reading (Ex 16:2-4.12-15).
If you recall the context, the Jews were rescued from slavery in Egypt by the miracles the Lord worked through Moses, like the parting of the Red Sea.
But when they got to the desert, and wandered there for 40 years before entering the Promised Land, as they wandered in the desert they were hungry. So, as we heard in the first reading, the Lord gave them manna from heaven to eat, a mysterious bread that appeared on the ground every morning.

There are 2 things I want to point out to you about this manna:
First, the people got bored with it (Num 11:6). It was the same every day.
In this sense it was like the Eucharist, because we can look at the Eucharist and think it’s always the same, unexciting, uninteresting.
Second, however, I want to draw your attention to what we also read in the Old Testament about the manna, and it is this:
it was mysteriously adapted to what each person needed,
so that they were able to live on nothing but that manna for 40 years. In the book of Wisdom we find this commentary about the manna:
It “provided every pleasure and [was] suited to every taste ...[it] was changed to whatever each one desired”(Wis 16:20).
This text from Wis 16:20 is partially quoted as our Communion Antiphon for this Sunday, Week 18.

Now, the point is this, the Eucharist, being not just manna but the very “flesh”(Jn 6:51) of the Lord Jesus, the Eucharist is similarly adapted to our every need, even more than the manna was. And this is a point that we find reflected on in the writings of many of the saints, as quoted in the liturgy, for example:
“[Concerning the Eucharist] What could be more delightful that that in which God offers us infinite delight? ‘Without their toil you supplied them with bread from heaven ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste. For your sustenance manifested your loving kindness towards your children; and the bread, ministering to the desire of the one who took it, was changed to whatever each one desired’...This sacrament is the fruit of the tree of life... This sacrament is operative to produce both love and union with Christ.” (St Albert the Great, Commentary on St Luke’s Gospel 22,19, in Office of Readings, 15 Nov, Vol 3, p.397). Also, the Communion Antiphon this week, week 18 in Ordinary Time: “You have given us, O Lord, bread from heaven, endowed with all delights and sweetness in every taste”.
And, if the Eucharist is what Jesus says it is, namely, His very self, then this is exactly what we should expect: as the Lord God, Jesus contains every goodness, is able to satisfy our every need. And when we come to Him with one need He is coming to us to satisfy that need. When we come to Him with another need then He is coming to us to satisfy that need.

He comes in Holy Communion to satisfy our every need:
When I come to Him weak, He comes bringing His strength.
When I come to Him sad, He comes with His consolation.
When I come to Him lonely, He comes as the companion of my heart.
When I come to Him fighting temptation to sin, He comes with the grace to resists sin.
Even when I come to Him deluded and self-satisfied and thinking I don’t need Him, He comes offering graces to draw me away from my self-delusion.

So, finally, let me bring this to a practical conclusion, let me ask you a question:
What do you think about when you are receiving Holy Communion?
Do you come to Him thinking of nothing? With an empty head? Or worse?
Or, you come to Him mentally and spiritually focused on Him so that you will be suitably DISPOSED and able to receive the graces on offer in Holy Communion?
Every need for your soul is ready to be satisfied in Holy Communion –if only we are open to Him!

I have printed in the newsletter this Sunday a little ‘Spiritual Communion’ prayer I often use, that I’d suggest to you, to focus our thoughts as we approach the altar:
“I wish, Lord, to receive you with the purity, humility and devotion with which your most Holy Mother received you, with the spirit and the fervour of the saints”

To go back to where I began: we’re here doing what we do every Sunday, every Mass, but it is not just all the same.
The Lord Jesus knows what we need,
He comes bringing what we need,
because He comes as His very Self.